Originating in Mexico, it has been a local drink for years but is now gaining popularity abroad.
Mezcal comes from the agave plant. The agave core (piña) is cut out, placed in a pit and roasted over charcoal and wood, which is where the traditional smoky flavor comes from. Some entrepreneurial distillers now use ovens to make modernized versions. Whichever process is used, the distilled agave liquor is then aged in oak barrels. Different types of mezcal have different aging timeframes. For example, añejo is aged for a minimum of one year, reposado can be aged for up to one year and joven mezcal is aged for a mere two months at most.
Tequila is classified as a mezcal, but mezcal is not tequila. The production and distillation processes are different. For example, agave for tequila is steamed, while agave for mezcal is roasted before it's turned into distilled liquor. More than that, Blue Weber agave is the only acceptable form of agave for tequila production and is grown in a different part of Mexico than the variety used for mezcal.
Absolutely! Mezcal can be created from over 30 varieties of the agave plant, which means it can have different tastes. The most common type of agave used for mezcal is Espadin. Flavor profiles depend on how the agave is cooked but can range from floral to citrus to earthy to fruity. However, all mezcals have a smoky flavor.
If you've never had mezcal before, don't go into it expecting it to be like tequila. Start with an Espadin variety and drink it slowly. Usually, an orange slice and some salt sit on top in the most traditional form of this alcoholic liquor. Mezcal isn't made for drinking quickly so take your time and let the flavors roll over your tongue. If you're new to mezcal, Las Mezcas are a good place to start. The agave and natural flavors tone down the smokiness of the spirit, giving you a smooth introduction to this drink.